I have a number of posts on my blog about upgrading your existing halogen bulbs to either HID (Xenon) bulbs for headlights or fog lights, as well as a number of articles on upgrading to LED bulbs for smaller things like DRLs, Reverse Bulbs, and City Lights. A commenter recently asked why I recommend HID vs LED setups depending on the bulb, which is a great question! Both LED and HID headlights have gained popularity in recent years because they offer the appeal of advance technology and high performance, as compared to traditional halogen bulbs. Whereas halogen bulbs more closely resemble the type of household bulbs that you would have at home, both LED and HID headlights use sophisticated technology to light your path. Both are good options for your vehicle, but there are some differences bear noting when choosing between the two. Let’s look at LED vs HID headlights and compare the two options throughout the rest of this post to understand when one option is better than the other.
Benefits of HID Lights
Also known as xenon headlights, HID (or high intensity charge bulbs) feature an arc of electricity created by electricity travelling between two tungsten electrodes inside the bulb, which is filled with xenon gas. The result is a brighter light than you get from a tungsten element alone. To put that into perspective, you can get about 3,000 lumens (a unit measuring the amount of light emitted per second) from an HID bulb, whereas a halogen bulb emits just about half that amount, for a difference of 90 square meters vs. 30 square meters of illumination. That results in better night driving visibility and increased safety, even in bad weather. HID bulbs also use much less energy than halogen bulbs and last much longer than halogen bulbs – 2000 hours of illumination as opposed to just 450. On the downside, HID lights are rather expensive when compared to other types of lights and because they are uniquely shaped, it can be difficult to retrofit an older car with these bulbs.
- Far brighter light, and a cooler color than halogen
- Far less energy consumption than halogen
- Longer lasting that halogen
- Bigger shape than halogen (may not fit)
- Needs a projector lens to focus beam or may blind oncoming drivers
- Requires a ballast to power it (needs room to mount)
- May need a coding update to your ECU
Benefits of LED lights
LED bulbs are relatively new on the automotive lighting scene, but they have gained huge popularity in recent years. LEDs are electrical conductors that emit light when they are turned on by way of an electrical circuit. The circuit is either switched on or it is off; these bulbs do not require a heating up period. One of the biggest advantages in favor of LED headlights is that they have very few parts. That means they can be made quite small and can withstand any vibrations and bumps that may occur on rough roads. They, too, consume less energy than halogen bulbs and are very long-lasting, sometimes up to tens of thousands of hours. One of the most popular reasons for choosing LED bulbs is that they come in many different colors of light.
- Brighter than halogen, but less bright than HID
- More color options than halogen or HID, option for strobe lighting
- Less energy consumption than halogen
- Longer lasting than halogen
- Smaller, easier to fit shape than HID
- No ballast required
- May require resistors to avoid a “bulb out” error on dash
- Light does not project as far
When to Pick HID over LED?
LEDs are cheaper, smaller, don’t need a special ballast or projector lens, and have more color options, which makes them the ideal choice for replacing smaller bulbs like turn signals, reverse lights, or reverse lights…but for lights that you need a longer field of vision, like your headlights, fog lights, or a separate spot light (i.e. on a roof or separate light rail) HIDs are the way to go. Automakers are now making LEDs that work well as a main headlight beam or fog light beam, but that technology is very expensive and requires special wiring and headlight lenses that can’t be easily retrofitted, so for now this technology isn’t obtainable unless your car also came with a OEM LED headlight/fog light option.
TL;DR: if it’s a smaller bulb, go LED. If it’s your headlights or fog lights, go for a HID kit. Anything in between, research your options and see what is the most cost-effective.